Attacks on medical institutions in the Kharkiv Region: 24 February 2022 to 29 January 2023
The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group (KHPG) has been documenting international crimes reportedly committed by invading Russian forces (war crimes, crimes against humanity, acts of genocide) in the city of Kharkiv and the surrounding Kharkiv Region (pop. 2.7 million; 2020). This report summarises the damage done to hospitals, and to other parts of the Region’s medical infrastructure and transport, between 24 February 2022 and 29 January 2023. (The legal term ‘object’, meaning a building or site, is used periodically in this translation, tr.)
Location of the documented incidents
During the period under consideration, the KHPG recorded 79 incidents in which hospitals and other parts of the Kharkiv Region’s medical infrastructure and specialised medical transport were damaged or destroyed.
At least 85 such sites were damaged in the Region during those 12 months. Medical institutions in the city of Kharkiv (no less than 26 sites) suffered more than anywhere else. A further 18 objects of the Region’s medical infrastructure were damaged in the Kharkiv district; 13 and 12 objects, respectively, suffered damage in the Chuhuiv (north) and Izium (east) districts; no less than 10 objects were damaged in the eastern Kupiansk district, no fewer than 6 in the north-western Bohodukhiv district.
Damage to hospitals, medical infrastructure and transport
During the period under consideration, KHPG monitors and journalists recorded testimony and evidence of damage to hospitals, medical centres, emergency departments, polyclinics, outpatient departments, prenatal clinics and other sites of the Region’s medical infrastructure, and of damage to the Region’s ambulances and emergency care vehicles.
1. Damage to hospitals and other centres where the sick and wounded are concentrated
A significant proportion of the documented incidents concern the destruction or damage to hospitals and other places where the sick and wounded are concentrated.
64 such incidents were recorded. Almost one half (29) concerned damage or attacks on hospitals in the Kharkiv Region. KHPG monitors and journalists gathered information, furthermore, about damage to no less than 17 polyclinics and outpatient departments; seven medical centres and private clinics; six centres and departments for emergency medical treatment; and five other institutions forming part of the Region’s medical infrastructure.
In an 18 December 2022 attack on the Region’s Kupiansk district, Russian forces wounded a 31-year-old medical assistant when they shelled the town of Kivsharivka (pop. 18,496; 2020), damaging the local hospital and smashing its windows (information: Oleh Sinehubov, head of the Kharkiv Regional Military Administration [RMA]).
On the night of 3 June, according to the Suspilne media outlet, Russian forces shelled the town of Zolochiv (pop. 24,109; 2020) in the Region’s Bohoduhov district. “At 00.18 am a Soviet missile made in 1989 struck the therapeutic department,” said Victor Kovalenko, head of the Zolochiv district council. The building was totally destroyed, said Kovalenko, as were neighbouring buildings belonging to the hospital, its dental department and private homes nearby.
Provided they are not being used for military purposes, we may note, the deliberate targeting of hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are concentrated is a war crime under Article 8:2 (b) ix of the Rome Statute.
As it seeks testimony and evidence about damage to such objects, the KHPG combines the gathering of data from open sources with on-site visits to document the consequences of such attacks and acquire testimony. Such an approach has enabled the KHPG to accumulate a significant volume of information from a variety of sources which, in future, could be presented to an international court hearing.
2. Damage to other objects of medical infrastructure and specialised medical transport
During the period under consideration, the KHPG documented 15 incidents in which other medical objects and specialised medical transport were damaged. During this work testimony and evidence was gathered about damage inflicted on 21 objects of this type.
Of the evidence collected, a considerable proportion referred to damage suffered by specialised medical transport. The KHPG confirmed information about at least 11 such incidents during which 17 ambulances were damaged. Our monitors also gathered information about damage inflicted on other objects of the Region’s medical and wellness infrastructure.
On 28 October 2022, the Suspilne media outlet reported, Russian forces shelled an emergency treatment centre in Dvorichna where an emergency care team was based. (The town had a population of 3,812 in 2013.) The windscreens of the centre’s ambulances were damaged and their doors, smashed. (Occupied by Russian troops in March 2022, Dvorichna was liberated on 11 September last year.)
On 11 March, according to a report by the Derhachi town council, ambulances, the central hospital, the town council building, the Derhachi cultural centre and private homes were all damaged when the town (pop. 17,655; 2020) was shelled.
We may add that the term medical personnel was widened in Additional Protocol 1 (8 June 1977) to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949. Since then, medical personnel have been understood to include the following: military and civilian personnel of a party involved in an armed conflict; the personnel of medical units or means of medical transport; and also medical personnel of national societies of the Red Cross and other national voluntary auxiliary societies. Accordingly, these personnel were to be recognised by the parties to the conflict (see Article 8 [c] of Protocol 1, 8 June 1977).
In accordance with Article 12  of Protocol 1 (1977), medical units merit respect and defence at any given time and cannot constitute a target for attack. Article 12  of the Protocol laid down the conditions on which the above-stated terms were also applicable to civilian medical units.
An analysis of the accumulated material provides grounds for a preliminary assessment of the aforementioned actions as violations of International Humanitarian Law and war crimes. The crimes were, in accordance with Article 8:2 [b] ix of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, deliberate targeted attacks on hospitals and places where the sick and the wounded were concentrated.